Well-digger stumbles on human bones in puzzle of missing woman

Onlookers take a look at the well where the remains of a woman were discovered.

Photo credit: Gerald Bwisa | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • All along, locals had been drinking from the well, unaware that the water was contaminated with human remains.

On Friday, June 2, 2017, a 51-year-old woman went missing from her home in Rafiki village, Trans Nzoia County, soon after selling four plots.

Edith Khayera was a widow, and the second wife of Tom Kikongolo, who died in 2016. She did not have offspring of her own and took care of her late husband’s three children after his first wife died.

Area Assistant Chief Sissy Mwalie said Kikongolo’s female cousin, who, with her son, lived with Ms Khayera, had reported the woman missing.

"When they reported the matter to me, I referred them to police and we started contacting friends and relatives on her whereabouts," explained Ms Mwalie, narrating how the search for Ms Khayera began.

She had remained missing for the previous five years, until a well-digger doing maintenance work this week accidentally found what might just be the shocking answer to her disappearance. 

A well-digger is assisted by villagers to retrieve the remains of a woman at her homestead in Rafiki village, Trans Nzoia County. 

Photo credit: Gerald Bwisa | Nation Media Group

The man was doing the work on Monday, June 13, on the instructions of the woman’s stepson when he stumbled on bones and a dress.

A skull, two pelvic bones, two femur bones, one rib bone, one vertebral bone, two fibula and tibia bones and a dress were retrieved two days later from the well with the assistance of police and a Trans Nzoia County disaster team.

All along, locals had been drinking from the well, unaware that the water was contaminated with human remains.

The accidental discovery of the remains started on August 10, 2019, when Wycliffe, her 35-year-old stepson, who resides in Nairobi, visited his upcountry family home for the first time in three years. He was concerned that the compound was bushy after years of neglect.

"He cut down the overgrown grass in the compound and decided to have the well at their home, which had been closed for a long time, cleaned up so as to allow neighbours to draw water from it," Evans Katiti, a neighbour, told the Nation. The well had been padlocked.

He then left for Nairobi three days later on August 13, 2019, leaving the well open for use by neighbours.

Human bones

On Saturday, May 11, 2022, he returned home to find the well had completely dried up. He sought a well-digger on June 13 to clean it up again.

As the worker, Stephen Musieba, 35, was cleaning up the well at around 2pm, he noticed something strange.

“The soil he was removing from the well felt different from what it should have been, given his many years of experience. He said it looked like someone had taken farm soil and poured it into the well," explained Mr Katiti.

As the worker continued removing the dirt, he stumbled on human bones and a dress and stopped immediately to alert the area chief.

Mr Musieba, a well-digger for 13 years, said it was his strangest experience since he started digging wells.

“It was the first time for me to stumble on human bones and I remain shocked. In fact, I stopped the work immediately and went straight home and told my wife what I had encountered before calling my bishop and the chief,” he said.

Ms Mwalie, the assistant chief, then notified the police, who arrived at the scene on Tuesday, June 14. But they could not do anything, because they needed assistance from the county government disaster, fire and rescue team.

The local police station commander and officers from the DCI’s Kitale office and others accompanied the fire brigade to the scene the following day, Wednesday, June 15.

"When the police and rescue team came on Wednesday, they managed to retrieve all the remains with the assistance of the well-digger," Ms Mwalie told the Nation.

A skull, two pelvic bones, two femur bones, one rib bone, one vertebral bone, two fibula and tibia bones and a dress were removed from the well.

The results of a preliminary inquiry indicate that the remains could be those of Ms Khayera. But further DNA tests will be required to confirm this.

Wycliffe, the first-born of Ms Khayera’s late husband’s three children, was arrested immediately after the remains were retrieved and is still in police custody to assist with investigations into his stepmother’s disappearance.

The assistant chief now suspects the woman might have been killed for the money she obtained from selling her four plots. 

Sold four plots

"She had sold her four plots and wanted to purchase land somewhere else. Someone close to her might have plotted to eliminate her for the money,” she said, with neighbours echoing her sentiments.

"What we know is that [Ms Khayera] had sold her plots and disappeared immediately, which made us suspect an ill motive. We do not know who did it, but we highly suspect it might be people close to her," said Mr Katili.

Kikongolo’s cousin and her son, who lived with Ms Khayera, had relocated to Nairobi. They were yet to be questioned after her remains were discovered.

Trans Nzoia County Criminal Investigations Officer Francis Kihara said the remains would be taken to a Nairobi laboratory for DNA tests to determine their identity.

"We do not want to rely on reports from members of the public. We want to be 100 percent sure, and that is why a DNA test to fully identify the remains is key and this might take some time," he said.

The remains were at the Kitale Referral Hospital mortuary.

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